In this paper we examine the connection between the westward motion of Turkey relative to Europe and the extension in and around the Aegean Sea. The principal new data available since the last attempt to synthesize the tectonics of this region by McKenzie (1978) are much improved focal mechanisms of earthquakes, constrained by P and SH body wave modelling as well as by first motions. These mechanisms show that the faulting in the western part of the Aegean region is mostly extensional in nature, on normal faults with a NW to WNW strike and with slip vectors directed NNW to NNE. There is evidence from palaeomagnetism that this western region rotates clockwise relative to stable Europe. In the central and eastern Aegean, and in NW Turkey, distributed fight-lateral strike-slip is more prevalent, on faults trending NE to ENE, and with slip vectors directed NE. Palaeomagnetic data in this eastern region is more ambiguous, but consistent with very small or no rotations in the northern part and possibly anticlockwise rotations, relative to Europe, in the south. The strike-slip faulting that enters the central Aegean from the east appears to end abruptly in the SW against the NW-trending normal faults of Greece. The kinematics of the deformation is controlled by three factors: the westward motion of Turkey relative to Europe; the continental collision between NW Greece-Albania and the Apulia-Adriatic platform in the west; and the presence of the Hellenic subduction zone to the south. As the right-lateral slip on the North Anatolian Fault enters the Aegean region it splays out, becoming distributed on several parallel faults. The continental shortening in NW Greece and Albania does not allow the rotation of the western margin of the region to be rapid enough to accommodate this distributed E-W right-lateral shear, and thus leads to E-W shortening in the northern Aegean, which is compensated by N-S extension as the southern Aegean margin can move easily over the Hellenic subduction zone. The dynamics of the system, once initiated, is self-sustaining, being driven by the high topography in eastern Turkey and by the roll-back of the subducted slab beneath the southern Aegean. The geometry of the deformation resembles the behaviour of a system of broken slats attached to margins that rotate. In spite of its extreme simplicity, a simple model of such broken slats is able to reproduce quantitatively most of the features of the instantaneous velocity field in the Aegean region, including: the slip vectors and nature of the faulting in the eastern and western parts; the senses and approximate rates of rotation; the overall extensional velocity across the Aegean; and the distribution of strain rates, as seen in the seismicity and topography or bathymetry, and using geodetic measurements.